Paranormal Activity is about Katie and Micah, a young, well-off couple who are haunted by a supernatural being in their San Diego home. Since it has followed Katie her entire life, she just wants to leave it alone. Micah, however, brings a camera into their bedroom to document the haunting.
Any more plot detail would spoil the movie (there are more than enough spoilers in the trailer), so I’ll say only that things get worse for Katie and Micah before they get better. Luckily, the camera is there to capture it all, and it’s from the camera’s point of view (think The Blair Witch Project) that their story is told.
Paranormal Activity benefits from its stripped-down approach in more ways than just marketing. Though some of character development scenes between Katie and Micah are repetitive and long, the scenes where Micah leaves the camera running on a tripod in the bedroom while they sleep are worth the wait.
When that clock at the bottom of the screen stops, everyone in the theater knows something creepy is about to happen. Your eyes dart from the dark hallway to the shadowy staircase, looking for any sign of the haunting. These moments of carefully crafted tension will have you holding your breath on the edge of your seat every time.
The Verdict: Yes, Katie and Micah are kind of annoying. It quickly gets old watching them bicker about the same things over and over again. Without the minimal character and plot development in the boring daytime scenes, though, we wouldn’t have the bedroom scenes; and boy are they ever worth it. No, this movie isn’t nearly as terrifying as some would claim, but during those few moments when the lighting and tone are absolutely horror-perfect, it’s easy to see why Paranormal Activity is the defining film of this Halloween season.
2.5 stars (out of 4)
The Invention of Lying takes place in a world where everyone tells the whole truth all of the time. Ricky Gervais (of the U.K.’s The Office) stars as Mark Bellison, an unsuccessful writer who is frequently called varying combinations of “fat” and “loser”. After a failed date with the beautiful Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner) knocks his self-esteem down a peg, Mark is fired from his job and $500 short on rent.
Mark, ready to take what little money he has and give up his apartment, arrives at the bank only to find that the computer systems are down. When the bank teller asks him how much money is in his account, the spark of ingenuity leads him to request more than he actually has. The teller, never having encountered a lie, gives him the full amount. Just like that, Mark invents lying, and he soon learns he can get anything he wants with even the most unbelievable fib.
The Invention of Lying is a perfect example what good casting can do for a movie. Not only does it have the unstoppably hilarious Ricky Gervais in both its starring role and behind the director’s chair (along with Matthew Robinson), the film also features Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Rob Lowe, Jeffrey Tambor, and Tina Fey as a smorgasbord of brutally honest supporting characters.
Filling the romantic comedy with actual comedians rather than the usual Hollywood hunks and starlets proves to be The Invention of Lying’s biggest asset. Gervais and crew unflinchingly deliver on the laughs. Mark’s interactions with his friends, neighbors, and coworkers couldn’t get any funnier without losing the family-friendly PG-13 rating.
But while the comedic elements of The Invention of Lying go off without a hitch, the romantic subplot is less than memorable. We’ve already seen chubby everymen trick beautiful women into falling for them in countless romcoms this year alone, so why pay for it again? The movie is more than funny enough to stand on its own as a comedy, but falls flat by dragging an unconvincing romantic subplot along.
The predictable romance is made all the more frustrating by an entirely unnecessary third-reel development that serves only to muddle the film’s floundering finale. Wrapping up one storyline by starting a new one is never a good idea after more than an hour and a half, especially in a comedy. You’ll be ready to go home long before the movie’s 99 minutes are up.
The Verdict: The Invention of Lying has a three-part story when only two parts are needed. It’s disappointing to enjoy a movie so much at first, only to find yourself checking your watch through the last 20 minutes. This film could definitely have benefited from some liberal editing. The beginning may be a blast, but the film’s last reel is a sappy drag, so unless you’re a Ricky Gervais superfan or a hopeless romantic looking to lure your significant other to the theater, you may want to save your money.
1.5 stars (out of 4)
Get ready, everybody, because it’s finally here. The Big One. The Zombie Apocalypse. Most of Earth’s human population is either dead or infected with a horrible disease that makes them fast, ferocious, and hungry for flesh. Those still alive think they’re alone. The only thing left to do is survive.
Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, fresh from Adventureland, playing pretty much the same character), a college student from Texas, has come up with a list of rules to make surviving just a little bit safer. On his way to Ohio to see if his parents are alright, he runs into Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), whose knack for zombie killing is surpassed only by his love of Twinkies. When they meet two girls, Wichita (Superbad’s Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin), they find out a California amusement park may be the last zombie-free place on the planet. Can they trust each other enough to get there alive together?
Such is the basic premise of Zombieland, the latest film to cash in on the immense popularity of zombie fiction. These aren’t your average, mindlessly shuffling undead masses, though. Zombieland’s epidemic is the result of a disease, and the infected become tirelessly energetic (living) zombies filled with cannibalistic rage.
This sets the stage for some of funniest and most entertaining zombie kills to hit screens since 2004’s Shaun of the Dead. Shotguns, baseball bats, grand pianos, and more are used, often to hilarious effect, to take out the ravenous trash. Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee, sure to be a horror fan-favorite for years to come, is especially notable for his twisted, zombie killing ingenuity.
The zombie killing hijinks get so crazy that if it weren’t for Ruben Fleischer’s skillful use of slow motion and computer generated special effects, Zombieland might be little more than absolutely ridiculous. Fleischer masterfully uses these effects to accentuate every cracked zombie skull and bloody shotgun blast, though, and it looks and sounds as good as a zombie can. From the gorgeous opening credits sequence to the very last zombie splat, this movie will impress your eyeballs.
Zombieland gets by on more than just pretty blood and breaking glass, though. The film’s small cast brings its characters to life and brings likability to the table in a genre that desperately needs relatable characters to work. Emma Stone and Jesse Eisenberg nail the post-apocalyptic chemistry between their two characters; and although I would have liked to see Eisenberg in a departure from his usual character type, I have to admit he plays the scrawny, sarcastic kid well.
And Woody Harrelson doesn’t miss a beat as Tallahasse, Zombieland's lovable Zed-ender. It’s impossible to miss how much fun Harrelson, who personally arranged his character’s wardrobe, has in this role as he spits out one-liners and takes time to “enjoy the little things,” smirking the whole time. Surprisingly, there’s more heart behind the Twinkie-obsessed zombie stomper than all the other characters combined. Just look out for his banjo.
Unfortunately, a few loose strings keep Zombieland from reaching its full potential. At the beginning of the film, we are given a set of characters with different goals and different ideas about survival. Without spoiling anything, I can say that a number of these goals are either forgotten or ignored by the time it’s all over. This won’t keep you from enjoying the movie at all, but it may leave a bad taste in your mouth after it’s done. Still, Zombieland is one film that seems perfect for repeat viewings, and in a world where PG-13 popcorn flicks spawn week after week, that makes it a valuable rarity.
The Verdict: There are no two ways about it. This movie is an absolute blast. From comedy and cursing to horror and gore, Zombieland has everything you could love about R rated movies. Zombies have rarely been this funny. See it twice, then start saving for the DVD.
3.5 stars (out of 4)